Many people have said to me they are young and still learning, so they will figure it out. Why can't we teach them?
Lets start a revolution where at birth no different than physical health but mental health is looked at as well! Lets give this idea to the next generation and watch the benefit it provides this world.
What Mental Health for Children Looks Like (in my experience)
So we have two beautiful daughters who are now 6 and 9 years old. They both have mental health struggles that we have gotten then help for however this looks very different then the help I receive.
First off it took a long time of asking different resources about my youngest's mental health before getting told of the service available in our area. The problem was that at 18 months, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years I was continually told that she was young and still learning about emotions, and she would figure it out. However, watching her do things that physically hurt herself or others made me very concerned, which we now know was a completely valid concern.
After learning more about my youngest and mental health I realized that although she handled her emotions better my oldest still had some mental health things she could use help with. For her she had anxiety and when her anxiety goes up her brain can't pay attention to everything she needs causing her to have urine accidents.
We received therapy for both girls, I say we because in fact therapy sessions for them typically didn't involve their presence at all. Their therapy session involved us discussing with the social worker our concerns and them letting us know what that likely meant and how we can support them as parents to help them learn to regulate themselves and respond in better ways to emotions. We learned may things that we could improve to help them more, like when they are having a hard time it is more beneficial to have us sit with them just to assure them we are their to support them, even if you do nothing but sit in their presence. Also, we learned that being vocal about our own mental health will help to create an environment that it is normal to talk about things like emotions which then allows us to understand them better.
Through therapy it was also suggested to go to Occupational Therapy (OT) and that was tremendously helpful in understanding the girls as well. My oldest that was where we explored her anxiety and the causes that created. They gave us exercised to do regularly as well as some mechanisms that she could use in the moment to calm her body and mind. For our youngest this is where we were told about primitive reflexes and that if integration of these reflexes at a young age doesn't happen sufficiently then it can cause the body to react to outside influences similar to an infant. Big changes aren't understood so meltdowns happen, if something doesn't feel good then you scream about it, etc... There was also some other thoughts on potential disconnects of different bodily systems that are currently being explored.
Mental Health is a part of health for everyone at every age and you are always developing and still learning so to have the thought that because a child is young and still developing they will figure it out does not make sense. They may not be able to verbalize what is going on, however we can help them besides most adults don't know how to verbalize it. I have also been told before that many children have the same experience, whether that is true or not is beside the issue but to me just because many children have the same experience doesn't mean it is normal and we shouldn't offer help to support them through it. Why if you can help a child find an way to become aware of themselves and their mental health wouldn't you do it.
You can not have physical or mental health without the other so we should start to combine care of these to aspects of our health as they effect each other so greatly.
Our Mental Health before Others
Aside from the above, there is one other thing that needs to be addressed to help successfully integrate mental health into the family. That thing is your own mental health. I found the greatest gift I gave to myself and my family was to focus on myself, self-awareness and my own mental health.
Not only did addressing my mental health improve the atmosphere of our family, make me the person I wanted to be, allow me to deal with hurdles in a healthy way but it allowed me to better understand my girls. I started to say out loud when I was having a hard time which allowed them to better understand me and created an environment where my girls started to be able to share how things affected them. We now communicate with each other when we need space, when we are struggling, when we need a hug... so we can support each other in the way needed.
I have started seeing benefits of this already, my youngest started hockey and I knew it was going to be difficult to get her on the ice as new things for her are very difficult. What I had to do was talk to myself before hand and agree to not have any expectations of the outcome. This allowed me to better support her, she was extremely frightened to take that step onto the ice. But because I wasn't rushed to get her out there, with no expectations, we took it slow. I assured her I understood that new things are scary but my husband and I were there to support her and she would always be safe. After a few times of stepping on the ice with us holding her and getting back off she took a few steps out and that was it she was gone. I was so happy for her and she was so proud of herself. Sometimes we need to step back and realize that what may be small to us is much bigger to them and see it from their eyes.
Lets truly create open communication about mental health in our families so that it is normal in the next generation and it just comes naturally!